Teaching toxicity

PROMOTING A BETTER LIFE Priya Kuriyan and Aniruddha Sen Gupta in New Delhi   | Photo Credit: Photo: V.V Krishnan


Sage India brings out an illustrated guide to hazardous substances in our daily life. SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY speaks to the creative minds behind this toxic link

Aniruddha Sen Gupta sets off the conversation with a truism. “The nature has a mechanism in place to handle waste produced by every species in the world except one, which is human beings.” With the death of a scrap dealer in Delhi's Mayapuri area due to exposure to toxic waste still in news, one can only agree with him.

Expanding the thought, Aniruddha has just come up with “Our Toxic World”, an illustrated guide to hazardous substances that we come across in our daily lives. In simple language, he highlights how toxic waste, that we humans produce, knowingly or unknowingly, is increasingly affecting the quality of our life.

Points out the Goa-based author of children's' books, “I have been working on the guide since 2007, the Mayapuri death is coincidental.” His book is meant for people on the street, who might have heard about or read about things that harm the quality of their lives due to bad waste management but are not aware of its full impact. “But his starting days in Assam, after the returned from the U.K., landed him in deep trouble. In 1977, he was jailed after he performed an organ transplant operation using pig's heart, lung and kidney. He says in the book, “The patient survived for seven days and died of staphelococcal septicimia. He had this infection before the operation with vegetation. But it was controlled with antibiotics. However, it had been flared up after transplantation which did not respond to antibiotics.” ” he underlines. Through the pages of the book, a Sage India publication, he is stressing the fact that one stitch at the right time can indeed save nine.


The book owes its genesis to Toxics Link, a Delhi-based non-governmental organisation, where Aniruddha worked for some time. “It has great research collected for the last 13 years on toxic waste produced in Delhi and its effect on its people but somehow the content is very advocacy oriented, the common people can't connect with it beyond a point. The idea behind this guide was to try and adapt it in a language and situations that common people can connect with,” he explains. So he borrowed the research content placed it on a canvas that features a bunch of characters, the replicas of whom you will find in any Delhi neighbourhood or in our own homes perhaps. “I placed the characters in Delhi colonies because I didn't want to get into new research. Anyway, most cities today have the same problems, the same issues of waste management to handle,” adds Anirrudha.

Priya Kuriyan, a graduate of National Institute of Design, and the book's illustrator, has added further to the desired look. Her sketches have reflection of people we come across on the street, say a balding Mohanlal Sachdeva, environmental activist Madhavi Kulkarni with a look of quiet resolve and intense eyes, a plain looking homemaker, Rajeshwari, Mohanlal's wife, etc.

Together they have brought to life characters like Prasad Sachdeva, a young architectural apprentice from Rohini area. Delhi Metro has made his life better; home is just a short rickshaw ride ahead now. But he dreads it. It worsens his asthma.

Then we find Bindu, a part-time maid in the Sachdeva household. Daily dusting of the house is one of her many chores. Barely literate, but Bindu knows what dust can do. It had eaten her husband away. A construction worker, dust from the sites had ruined his lungs.

There is Bonnie too, little Anamika's toy. She hugs, cuddles and sleeps with Bonnie, little knowing that the doll is made of polyvinyl chloride, a deadly chemical which can damage Anamika's kidneys, cause cancer and interfere with her reproductive system.

Among others, there is Ballu, a vegetable vendor who likes to keep his produce looking fresh throughout the day. He uses the nearby canal water to do the job, not knowing that its murky water is tainted by sewage, which adds cadmium to his vegetables. Short-term exposure to cadmium can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and muscle cramps. In the long term, it can affect his customers' kidneys and liver.

Though these characters are in the fictionalised world of Aniruddha, there are replicas of real-life people, representative of the umpteen victims of urban life.

Aniruddha refuses to believe that we have never been conscious of waste management. “Culturally, we have been waste-conscious. In Goa for instance, most old house had pig loos, which had a natural system of recycling waste. But there are newer forms of waste now, which we never generated before, we need to think about handling it right.” Mass ignorance about effective waste management, he underlines, is not accidental. “Efforts have been made to suppress information or keep people misinformed.”